Down time makes job tougher for Penguins' Johnson
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This is what a good backup goaltender does:
He starts perhaps 15 percent to 35 percent of his club's games, wins more than he loses, has the confidence of the skaters in front of him, has a good relationship with the No. 1 goalie, doesn't complain about his role and can sit idle for long stretches or play frequently.
Not the simplest of assignments, which is why it is not an easy role to fill, especially long-term.
"You might play a lot or you might have to jump in after two or three weeks," Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said Friday, talking not so much about himself but about his understudy, Brent Johnson.
"It's hard to be in game shape. But he's been doing that well. He gives us the chance to win."
Johnson, 33 and in his second season with the Penguins, was a beacon of consistency early. Fleury, the franchise goalie, was struggling his way through a 1-6 start. Johnson, playing more than originally planned, started 6-1-1 with a shutout.
Since Fleury straightened things out, Johnson nearly has gone into hibernation, starting just twice over the past 17 games.
Overall, he has played in a third of the Penguins' 33 games, 10 of those 11 appearances starts. He is 7-3-1, going 1-2 since he was an early season hero.
Those days must have seemed like eons ago as Johnson sat with his head down, taking off his skates Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center after a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers. The Penguins took a 1-0 lead into the third period, but Johnson gave up four goals, the first two in a span of 15 seconds.
His look was reminiscent of one Fleury adopted frequently early in the season. Johnson was as downcast as he has been in his tenure with the Penguins and reacted passionately when asked if rust was a problem.
"It's been awhile, but, seriously, there's no excuses," he said. "You can't give up four goals in the third period. Any goalie. It doesn't matter if you sit for a while. I'm definitely disappointed.
"I definitely have to work harder out there. That's my job. If I've got to sit for a while, I've got to sit for a while. I'm a backup goalie, and, when they ask me to perform, I have to perform. That's the main thing."
It was Johnson's first start after dressing as Fleury's backup the previous seven games.
Others were quick to defend Johnson's play against the Rangers.
"I thought [Johnson] played very well in the first [period]," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He didn't get a lot of chances, but I think he had three real quality ones. I thought he was sharp. He did a good job handling the puck and minimizing some of the forecheck and was good in the net.
"I don't like the opportunities they ended up getting. Those are an issue more with the guys in front of him."
"I don't think he deserves [the blame] for that last game," he said. "He made some big saves early on. As a team, I think we gave up too many scoring chances."
Johnson is less acrobatic than Fleury, plays deeper in the net and, at 6 feet 3 and 199 pounds, relies more on his size than Fleury. he one period did not greatly diminish Johnson's overall numbers, some of which are still better than Fleury's. Johnson ranks seventh in the NHL with a 2.21 goals-against average (Fleury's is 2.36) and ranks 10th with a .923 save percentage (Fleury's is .914).
Before Wednesday, Johnson's most uncomfortable moments as criticism toward Fleury skyrocketed. Johnson maintained the Penguins were Fleury's team, and, in less public settings, the two conferred a lot. They still do.
"Even though I was having a tough time and he was doing well, we had the same relationship," Fleury said.
"He's always encouraging me. Great dude."
Johnson went 10-6-1 in 23 appearances last season with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. That earned him a two-year $1.2 million extension with the Penguins.
The club will need Johnson, even if it does not know how often. There are eight more sets of back-to-back games this season, a prime time to use a backup goalie.
First Published December 18, 2010 12:00 am